The productiveness of a vacation is inversely proportional to the amount of time that I have to blog about it. This vacation has so far been completely action packed, and for the first time since Friday I have a minute to share it with my friends back in Omaha.
Friday night my father, my two brothers-in-law and I davened Kabbalat Shabbat at Bnei Yeshurun. There were hundreds of people there. The young man who lead davening (there is no professional chazzan, a different lay person leads every week) used a mixture of contemporary and classical tunes no matter which tunes he used it seemed that everyone in the crowd was familiar with them. The result was a beautiful harmony of voices as we welcomed in the shabbat queen.
Of the hundreds of people who davened at Bnei Yeshurun, there were many people like my father who work in New York city which is at least a half hour commute from Teaneck (it could be as much as two hours with rush hour traffic). This week was one of the earliest shabbats of the year. Candle lighting was at 4:08. To be showered and dressed and ready for shabbat by 4:08 means that one cannot leave work on Friday later then 2pm. Some jobs are understanding, however, even though there are laws that protect employees who keep shabbat, understanding cannot be legislated. It is a great sacrifice for many people to keep shabbat and often it involves people going into work on Sunday or even Saturday night after Shabbat to make up hours that they miss on Friday. As a Rabbi I never had to make a sacrifice to take off for Shabbat or holidays. I have incredible respect for the people that make that sacrifice every week. Hashem should bless them.
When we got home after shul the house was hopping. My two sisters from Florida had come for shabbat and they brought a gaggle of children with them.
The table was set beautifully and we all gathered to eat the first shabbat meal. My older sister in Florida has 6 children, 3 of them are on the autism spectrum. My youngest sister trained in New York to work with autistic children and moved to Florida where she works with her nephews. She works tirelessly with all of the children and not only works with them on reading and socialization, but she also make sure to instill a love of Judaism and Israel as well.
Before we began, my oldest nephew Joe showed us how he knows how to make kiddush all by himself. I was so proud of him and my sister for all that they have accomplished together.
My father made kiddush for everyone (very nostalgic for me) and then we proceeded to eat the incredible Shabbat repast that my mother had prepared. I remember one time my mother was on line at the supermarket around thanksgiving. Everyone on line was making enormous purchases of food to prepare for the holiday and one lady commented to my mother, "aren't you grateful we only have to do this once a year?" To which my mother responded, "some of us do this every week!"
This shabbat my mother had specifically prepared a variety of dishes which included favorites of each of her children. We ate relatively quickly because we were expecting the crowd for the shalom zachor to arrive at 8pm.
At 8 on the dot people started to arrive. The house was hopping until after 10 and people were coming in and out constantly to give good wishes to my sister and my parents, as well as a number of people who had heard that I was in town and wanted to wish me mazal tov for my daughter. It was overwhelming! I saw so many people that night, but most notably, I saw one of my oldest childhood friends that grew up down the street from me. After completing medical school he moved with his wife and children back to Teaneck. I was also honored with the visit by one of my mentors and my old boss Rabbi Steven Weil. I worked for Rabbi Weil as his assistant when I lived in Los Angeles. Since then he left that shul to take the job as the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. The OU is based in New York so he moved to Teaneck around the corner from my parents. We had a few l'chaims, ate some cookies, shared divrei Torah, and sang some songs. it was a beautiful Shalom Zachor. By the time everyone left, we were all exhausted and retired for the night.
Shabbat was another intense day. Bnei Yeshurun is so much more than just a shul. It is a center of Torah. There are 3 minyan times on Shabbat. There is the 7am minyan for early risers. When I was a kid I loved davening at the 7am minyan. When my grandfather would visit for shabbat we would go together at 7, walk back before 9 when people were first going to shul, have a kiddush breakfast to ourselves together at my parents house, and then learn Torah together until the rest of my family got back from shul.
The main minyan is at 9 am. The 9 am minyan is what I call "the main show." That is usually where there is a bar mitzvah. It is the most crowded. The Rabbi gives his sermon there. And the davening incorporates more singing so it takes a little longer than the other minyans. Ironically, even though I later became a Rabbi I never liked davening at the main minyan. Some people prefer that type of davening experience but it is not my taste. A big shul like Beni Yeshurun has to offer variety to its many members. Right now at Beth Israel in Omaha we could not sustain multiple minyanim on Shabbat. My ambition is to one day grow the shul to the point where we can offer a variety of minyans to appeal to the different kinds of people who come.
My father always davened at the 8:30 minyan. The 8:30 minyan is in the smaller sanctuary. It starts at 8:30 and like the baby Bear's porridge of Goldylocks fame it is not too fast, not to slow, not to crowded, not to sparse, it is just right. Sometimes they have a lay person or the assistant Rabbi give a sermon. When I was in college I was sometimes asked to give the semon at the 8:30 minyan. This particular Shabbat the Rabbi of the shul, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky gave the sermon. It was excellent. I won't blog about it though, so I can give it next year on parshat vayishlach!
After the 8:30 minyan Rabbi Weil gives a sophisticated class on various topics in Halacha. The text he uses is called the Minchat Chinuch, but he incorporates dozens of otehr sources and, in his characteristic way, brings interesting examples to illustrate his points. My father attends this class every week with about 30 or so other men.
At the same time as Rabbi Weil's class my mother gives a weekly class for women. She has a small following of about 15 to 20 women but they really enjoy her class and look forward to it every week. She canceled class this week because of all of her company so I did not get a chance to hear her in action.
After Rabbi Weil's class I went to a lecture given by a scholar in residence. Bnei Yeshurun hosted Rabbi David Stav from Israel. Rabbi Stav is the chief Rabbi of the Israel city Shoham. He is also involved in an organization called "Tzohar" that seeks to provide Israelis alternatives to the official Israeli government Rabbinate. His lecture after shul was titled, "The Religious Establishment in Israel: Crisis, Challenges, and Opportunities." He explained how the Rabbinate works in Israel, and how it differs from what we have in the United States. A Rabbi in the US is appointed by his community. In Israel, every town and city has an official Rabbi who is appointed by and paid for by the government. The advantage is that most people in Israel don't pay membership dues to a synagogue, it is provided for by the government. The disadvantage is that the Rabbis are then accountable not to the people they serve but to the people who appointed them. This does not always work out well for the people and Rabbis like Rabbi Stav are trying to create a system more like what we have in the US where communities choose and pay for their own Rabbis. The lecture was very interesting.
When we got home from shul we had lunch and spent some family time together but at 4 pm my father, brothers-in-law and I headed right back to shul for mincha, and another lecture from Rabbi Stav. Thsi time he spoke about "Religious Zionism, Army and State: Refusal of Orders for Evacuation." It was a fascinating lecture that spoke about the conflicts religious soldiers feel in Israel and how the different Rabbis are addressing them."
The lecture was fascinating but I missed Beth Israel of Omaha's amazing Seudat Shlishit and I missed our musical havdala which they do not do at Bnei Yeshurun. As you can see, a lot goes on at Bnei Yeshurun, but only at Beth Israel in Omaha is every shabbat a shabbaton!!
My father made havdala at home and we had a nice night together at home as a family. We all went to sleep early to get ready for the bris of my nephew that was to take place on Sunday.